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Ghost trees

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I visited the University of Oxford Botanic Gardens on Friday. This wonderful tree, a Davidia involucrata – informally known as a handkerchief tree, a dove tree, or a ghost tree, because of its beautiful white “bracts” which flutter in the breeze – is in full bloom, and truly a glorious sight.

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Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, I kept thinking about it. What a tree! How brilliant that I didn’t know it existed and then there it was; perfect, astonishing, surprising.

It’s nine years today since Matt Kinnison died. I bet he’d have liked this tree. He’d probably have known all about it because he knew a LOT of things. He’d have liked the informal names and the floaty shapes and the fact it’s named after Father Amand David, a French missionary who lived in China and discovered the Giant Panda.

Nine years passing means the sting, the grief, the pain, has gone. Not having Matt in my life is the norm now. Such a bloody shame though.

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If I told you my flash was based on a dream I had about Ted Hughes it’d sound really shit…

But hopefully, it isn’t. Thank you to Lauren Becker for publishing Corium Magazine and including my short, short fiction – The Poet, Ted in the latest edition.

 

 

Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary

Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary

Sarah Hilary’s London is full of shadows, darkness, underground places where people can vanish; places full of people, estates, tower blocks, all with blind spots and corners around which people disappear. A young girl running away from something, or someone, causes a car crash. Another girl is missing. Around a table, three well behaved young girls eat dinner served by a slightly older girl, presided over by a man. His name is Harm. On an estate an elderly woman watches warily from her window, noting names and times of the kids outside running riot. What links these people?

This is the third DI Marnie Rome book and if you are a fan of the others in the series you won’t be disappointed. Hilary’s customary intelligence and storytelling verve are in full force. It’s amazing how chilling words on a page can be. There’s a smashing twist that I genuinely didn’t see coming, oh, and tantalising snippets woven in about Stephen Keele, the killer of Rome’s parents, whose story we MUST learn one day.

I can’t say more for fear of spoilers, so I’ll leave you with this:

“The kitchen reeked of wax. Fourteen candles burning but they didn’t make it brighter, just dragged in more of the darkness. Greedily, the way his pain pulled at her, at everything.”

The Museum of You by Carys Bray

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When Carys Bray writes, woah, she sure does get you in the feels. Both “The Museum of You” and Bray’s first novel, “A Song for Issy Bradley,” deal with the aftermath of death, but Bray has a wonderful way of illuminating darkness with humour and empathy so the novels remain a pleasure to read.

Clover Quinn’s mother Becky died six weeks after Clover was (unexpectedly) born. Now 12, Clover lives with her bus driver dad, Darren, whose silence on the subject of her mum only fuels her desire to know more. In the long summer holidays, inspired by a school trip to the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Clover attempts to curate an exhibition of her mum, using bits and bobs of belongings that have remained in a cluttered, untouched bedroom for years. Where the novel is strongest is in the relationship between Clover and her dad and in the depiction of him adapting to a life that looks entirely different from how he’d once hoped. Darren is a wonderfully sympathetic character, flawed as all of us are, and very recognisable in his attempts to be the best parent he can.

“He could make jam or something. He remembers the things mum used to make with the raspberries: cheesecakes, trifles, tarts, fools and mousses. They could have a go, him and Clover, she’d like that. He has had these ideas before but it’s a struggle to make them materialise; by the time he gets home there will be something else to occupy his thoughts – the detached radiator, the hall walls, the worry that there may be something else she needs.”

The novel features a supporting cast of characters, the most interesting of whom is Jim, Darren’s troubled brother in law who has mental health issues and is hopeless at self-care. Describing Darren’s feelings towards him – “His kindness comes in bursts and he tires quickly. It was easier in the early days, when it seemed as if it was going to be more of a sprint than a marathon,” succinctly describing the fluctuating resolve of trying to help someone desperately needy who doesn’t seem likely to want to, or be able to, ever change.

Mrs Mackeral is the malapropism yelling next door neighbour who is maybe a little too cartoonish to feel fully realised, but provides some amusing moments. Colin is Darren’s best mate who along with his sister, and Darren’s dad, form a kind of family unit around Clover. Whilst death underpins the narrative, there is a sense of optimism that this wonky group provide.

Clover is deftly drawn and is a character to cheer for. The story is heart warming whilst not shying away from truth.

Towards the end of the book Bray writes,“Grief never goes away. And that’s no bad thing – it’s only the other side of love, after all.”
How beautiful is that?

This is an emotionally honest novel written by a writer who marries real insight with engaging writing.

There’s nothing more boring than other people’s dreams…

There’s nothing more boring than other people’s dreams…

I dreamt about my dad. I was in a large block of offices full of people and saw him at the top of some stairs. He was wearing a suit, shirt and tie. He looked more 70’s dad than anything (maybe my subconscious translating the priests’ assertion that dad would have a “new and glorified body” and assuming pre heart attacks would be a prime point in time.)

I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

Then, in my dream, I thought, I mustn’t forget this. Remember.
I went up to dad and I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

But I didn’t know what the thing was. I didn’t know how to get there. I retraced the conversation over and over, looking for clues.

I went up to dad and I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

I went up to dad and I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

I went up to dad and I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

And this looped on for who knows how long. And when I woke up I thought I mustn’t forget this.
I went up to dad and I said “I really miss you.”
And he said “I really miss you too.”
And we hugged.
He said, “You’ll be coming to the thing tonight though? I’ll see you again there.”
And I said, “Yes.”

I really miss my dad.

The grief underpins everything. Sometimes it feels dormant, but just when I think it is safer now, less spiky, it washes over me like an unnoticed wave that I have my back to, plunges me right back into salt and panic.

Last week I spent time with two gorgeous women who reminded me of who I am. This is what friendships should be like; time spent with people who don’t judge, who don’t monologue at me, who don’t insist everything has to be funfunfun, who understand that life is complex, who don’t leave me exhausted and drained, who don’t put me down, but instead lift me. I am so grateful to know these smart, thoughtful, ace people. Thank you KG and KM!

(Photo taken from Worthing pier yesterday. A beautiful day with Si. Calm waves, blue sky, love.)

 

It’s difficult…

It’s difficult…

My first online blogging was done via LiveJournal way back whenever. I had a small group of readers whose LJ’s I also read. We commented on each other’s posts and it all felt cosy and fun. I was a little wary about being discovered so I used a pseudonym and fake names for all the folk I wrote about, but otherwise it was truth all the way. Then I set up “A Salted”, a blog in which I discussed working in a big bookshop and writing and reading. It was less gossipy than LJ, but still it was definitely a personal blog. Then came this one. I have way more publications to my name and I wanted to feature them and promote my writing. I also review books. Sometimes I interview other writers, beginning the Smash Lits interviews because I get so incredibly bored by all the writer blog tours. I prefer to read blogs that make me feel I am reading about a person. I hate twitter accounts that are repeated links to someone’s writing and RT’s of praise and fake reviews. (Five *****’s to Sara Crowley’s extraordinary story!) Facebook pages full of dry self promotion. Blogs that drone on. Who cares?

I have become so cautious about what I say, I don’t tell the truth about my life to anyone really. I am fake and polite and careful at all times. What would happen if I told the truth? Oh my goodness, people might know how I feel and what’s going on, and then what? How…exposing.

We live at a time when I can watch “Reality” TV shows in which young people will have sex, get drunk, show their entire bodies, but never reveal themselves. It’s a curious honesty. Big Brother contestants sleep together unabashed, yet refuse to discuss whether or not they might date as if suggesting they might want a relationship opens them up to a potential embarrassment far greater than showing their genitalia to the cameras. It feels as if having sex with someone is fine, but wanting the hand-holding, chatty bit of a partnership is too much.

Random thoughts:

It’s six months since dad died and it very much feels like my life has divided into before he died and after. After has been miserable as hell. I look at pictures or think of things and go, ah, yeah, that was before dad died. That was before I lost the weird innocence I didn’t know I had.

My new job is great. It’s the one bright spot in an otherwise terrible year.

There are so many things I don’t talk about. I keep secrets and lock away so much sadness that I may explode.

People say you find out who your friends are in times of crisis. What if you find out you don’t have any?

At my dad’s funeral the church was full. He was such a friendly, popular guy many people wanted to pay their respects. I don’t know who would come to mine; not so many, that’s for sure. I went to a neighbour’s funeral last week. Her husband died 25 years ago and they didn’t have children. After all her struggles, her endurance, her keeping on with a smile and joke, life ended. That’s what it does. She was 96 and she had told me all her friends were dead, even the younger ones.

We get through our lives however we do, and it ends. That’s a certainty. I will die. You will die. Everyone we love will die. And in the meantime I’m alive, I’m sad, I’m pissed off, I’m increasingly afraid my life will end before I have written my fucking novel, I’m fat, flawed, exasperated, but I do my best to put some good out into the world, to be a decent person, to keep on keeping on even though the ground has turned out not to be solid and it all feels so bloody hard.

My most used saying of 2016 so far is, “It’s difficult…”

My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Strout is an exemplary storyteller and having adored Olive Kitteridge so damn much, I trust her to tell a quietly unfussy and moving story. MNiLB is narrated by Lucy Barton who looks back at a long stay she had some time in the eighties in hospital recovering from a post-op infection. Her husband and children were largely absent while she recuperated, and her mother, who she hadn’t seen for many years, flew, for the first time, from her small rural home in Amgash to New York. Remaining by her bedside for several days and nights, her mother offers up anecdotes as conversation; tidbits of other’s lives, gossip about neighbours Lucy might recall. Morality tales in the main. Fragments are revealed, as they are in our actual memories, this happened, and this, do you remember? And the pieces of the puzzle are laid out until, oh, yes, we see the picture now. Lucy’s childhood, one of emotional deprivation as well as physical, is revealed. The agonies of not being a fit remaining throughout her life no matter how she learned to blend in with the help of money, husband, kids, a writing career, a New York life.

“Loneliness was the first flavour I tasted…”

Lucy finds a voice through writing, but can’t express herself to her mother. Theirs are conversations where what is not said matters more than what is. We learn obliquely about her father’s PTS and subsequent cruelty, the humiliation he heaped upon her brother, Lucy’s marital problems and her friendship with a neighbour who dies of AIDS.

“It turned out I wanted something else. I wanted my mother to ask about my life. I wanted to tell her about the life I was living now. Stupidly — it was just stupidity — I blurted out, ‘Mom, I got two stories published.’ She looked at me quickly and quizzically, as if I had said I had grown extra toes, then she looked out the window and said nothing. ‘Just dumb ones,’ I said, ‘in tiny magazines.’ Still she said nothing.”

The hopefulness that she can share and connect is calmly devastating.

Glowing at the centre is her relationship with author/teacher, Sarah, who instructs Lucy to write the pages we have read. “This is a story about a mother who loves her daughter,” Sarah says about the writing Lucy has shown her. “Imperfectly. Because we all love imperfectly. But if you find yourself protecting anyone as you write this piece, remember this: You are not doing it right.”

This slim novel’s layers peel back to reveal the lumpy truths of a life and its relationships and lays them out for us to examine and recognise. Superb.